Case Reports

13 weeks' gestation • heart palpitations • chest tightness • Dx?

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► Heart palpitations
► Chest tightness




A 29-year-old G1P0 woman at 13 weeks’ gestation came in for a routine prenatal visit complaining of sudden-onset heart palpitations that were occurring about once a week. Each episode lasted between 15 and 60 minutes and was accompanied by chest tightness, with no identifiable cause. The patient could inconsistently terminate the episodes with Valsalva maneuvers. She reported having had 2 similar incidents of palpitations within the past year. Her family history was significant for sudden cardiac death of her father and paternal grandfather in their fifth decades of life.

A cardiovascular exam was normal; heart auscultation revealed a regular rate and rhythm without murmurs, rubs, or gallops, and the peripheral pulses were normal. A thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) level, basic metabolic panel (BMP), and complete blood count (CBC) were within normal limits. A transthoracic echocardiogram was negative for structural heart disease.


An initial Holter monitor study failed to capture an episode of her palpitations. The frequency of her palpitations increased as her pregnancy progressed, occurring almost daily by the second half of the third trimester, and a repeat Holter monitor study in the third trimester was significant for a 3-minute episode of supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) that correlated with patient-recorded symptoms (FIGURE).

Holter monitor study

Based on these results, we diagnosed the patient with an atrioventricular nodal reentry tachycardia (AVNRT). Although atrioventricular reciprocating tachycardia (AVRT) remained a remote possibility, it is far less common, and a 12-lead electrocardiogram (EKG) showed no evidence of pre-excitation.


AVNRT is the most common form of paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (PSVT). It occurs more frequently in women and typically manifests in the second to fourth decades of life.1 AVNRT is a narrow complex tachycardia characterized by a heart rate of 120 to >200 beats/min.

Hemodynamic changes in pregnancy can trigger arrhythmias

During pregnancy, hemodynamic changes (including increased blood volume and cardiac output) are thought to stimulate stretch-activated ion channels within the walls of the heart.2-4 Such changes may exacerbate previously existing cardiac arrhythmias or (less commonly) cause new-onset arrhythmias.3,4 A family history positive for arrhythmias or sudden cardiac death increases the likelihood of developing tachyarrhythmia during pregnancy.3 Women with a known history of PSVT might experience symptom exacerbation despite being on prophylactic therapy.4

Detection and diagnosis

While AVNRT is relatively benign in pregnancy, other cardiac arrhythmias (eg, atrial fibrillation/flutter, ventricular tachycardia) carry a greater risk for fetal and maternal complications, underscoring the need to correctly identify the type of arrhythmia.2,3

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